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We didn’t realize it until recently, but the act of gift giving does more than just show our appreciation for our lab-mates. Besides serving as a way for us to show gratitude, we’ve been able to better bond with them as a result. Taken together, we found it has promoted a sense of community that strengthens workplace morale and teamwork. This has proven to be especially important during COVID-19 where we inevitably remain isolated from each other due to occupancy restrictions and hardly see our coworkers in person.
Before the pandemic, our labs would host a celebration of accomplishments, including activities like lunches and socials, at the end of a term. However, as 2021 moves forward, we are still devoid of such workplace celebrations and in-person interactions on top of our preexisting stressors that hinder team building and connectedness.
However, Winnie and her lab members have not allowed social distancing or occupancy restrictions to dampen their holiday spirit. Determined to continue the yearly tradition of hosting a white elephant gift exchange, students and researchers have combined image manipulation on Microsoft PowerPoint with live streaming on YouTube to give life to a virtual Zoom celebration. In a traditional white elephant gift exchange, participants anonymously bring a wrapped gift, forming a collective pot of gifts to be claimed and stolen from.
Upon preparing her gift and sending pictures over to the host, Winnie joined her lab in a collective Zoom gathering. Together, they simultaneously followed a YouTube livestream, where gifts were exchanged and fought over, bringing laughter and joy to all. Immediately following the festivities, presents were delivered without contact to their new owners on their respective lab benches, perpetuating the holiday spirit for weeks to come in casual conversation and banter.
Pandemic or not, Michael has continued his tradition of gift exchanges with his lab, something he started doing as an undergraduate researcher. Back in undergrad, he would receive gifts from his graduate student mentor–he got gift cards, lunches, and even a cake on his birthday! He gifted his mentor chocolates when she successfully defended and his PI a card for the opportunity to work in his lab. Now as a graduate student, he does the same for his mentees by getting them cookies, boba, and chocolates in recognition of their hard work (what college students don’t love free food!). Furthermore, he has had small food exchanges of snacks including fruit and sweets with his PI and colleagues (during lab celebrations or meetings) or gift baskets (during Christmas) to show his gratitude for their mentorship and support.
Lab bonding activities are key to fostering a healthy workplace environment for all researchers, from the PI down to the undergrads. No matter how small, we hope that labs all across the globe can promote a culture of gratitude through gift giving.